Virus Outbreak Election 2020 Pennsylvania Primary

A worker processes mail-in ballots at the Bucks County Board of Elections office before the primary election in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Since the founding of our nation, those always afforded voting rights have been property-owning white Christian males over 21. It was a system geared very precisely to people just like me who could legally drink. So what’s the problem?

Well, the exclusion of indigenous Americans, blacks, women, younger adults, the less wealthy, and the powerless seems to have been inconsistent with the rationale for our country’s existence.

Consider this part of our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I bring this forward as a resistance to mail-in voting has been rising. President Trump has Tweeted concerns about voting by mail as more prone to fraud and more favorable to Democrats. Subsequently, more folks are posting their disapproval.

But existing voting access is simply not the same for all of us. Having unfettered access to the ballot box has often been resisted by the very people in charge of our voting processes and infrastructure.

Consider some of the efforts, past and present, to make voting more difficult for those thought to be unworthy:

» Poll Tax: Charging to vote was certainly counter-productive; if active participation by all in our society was a goal. It placed a log on the road for those of lesser means. Then as now; black Americans were significantly less affluent than white Americans. A February 2020 report from the Brookings Institute calculates the net worth of a typical Black family as $17,150 as opposed to a white family with $171,000. Discouraging the poor from voting, meant proportionally discouraging more blacks from voting.

» Literacy Tests: The tests were administered selectively by white poll officials who alone determined who passed or failed. One of the requests, of the 30 test directives with a 10-minute time limit, was for the people to: “Spell backwards, forwards”. No matter what is written, it could be considered wrong. Were you to spell “backwards” forward or “forwards” backwards? Or how about this one: “Divide a vertical line in two equal parts by bisecting it with a curved horizontal line that is only straight at its spot bisection of the vertical”. Who among us could read, understand, and respond perfectly to 30 such confusing directives allowing 20 seconds for each?

» Polling proximity and efficacy: Under-funding elections, which decrease the number of polling stations and the number of workers, increases the challenges in voting for many Americans. And like the other voting restrictions, the group most often impacted are our black brothers and sisters. Unsurprisingly, this week’s voting chaos in Georgia was almost exclusively in voting districts predominately populated by African-Americans.

By contrast absentee voting has been an important, successful, component of our voting options. Five states now have full-fledged voting by mail, without any discernible differences in vote integrity. President Trump votes by mail because he has chosen a Florida residency. His Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany has voted by mail 11 times in the last 10 years.

Asking all 330 million of us to show up on a single winter day is simply impractical for many. Not everyone has necessary transportation, is feeling well, is comfortable taking their kids to stand in cold or wet lines for hours, when simply mailing could be available. (The Brennan Center says in 2018 black voters had to wait 45% longer than their white counterparts when at the polls).

In Staunton’s last election a surge of new voters replaced Democrats with Republicans. Who’s to say that increased suffrage means anything other than more people participating in our democracy? That’s a good thing.

And if faxing and emailing votes can be securely registered, let’s do that as well.

The world is continually being reinvented, government needs to keep pace with the changes. Every time we can do something from home we eventually embrace it. Whether Direct Deposit, on-line shopping, or Zoom doctor visits, we understand we save time, money and effort by not getting in our cars.

If some of our leaders can choose to vote, absentee; why can’t we all? Fairness in voting demands equal application and access to all options.

Voting by mail frees us all from the irritations caused by too few polling stations, with too few workers, and walking the gauntlet of party workers. But let’s keep the polling stations, I like the “I voted” stickers.

Tracy Pyles, a former chairman and member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors who lives in Augusta County, is a columnist for The News Virginian. His column is published Saturdays. He can be reached at tcpylesjr@hotmail.com.

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